Trevor Hohns August 12, 2011

'We've got to stop using the rebuilding as an excuse'

Former selector Trevor Hohns is back in the frame. He talks about the challenge of bringing Australia's once-formidable depth back up to speed

When Trevor Hohns quit as Australia's chairman of selectors in mid-2006, his departure was not overly mourned. Australia had, after all, conspired to lose the 2005 Ashes - at the time considered cause for consternation, despite the magnificence of the cricket that brought about the result. Selection chairmen are seldom loved, but Hohns has risen in the public estimation by his absence. When in charge, he presided over a period of success that was helped by rare reserves of talent but also by the neatly staggered retirements of a generation of players. In almost every instance it was Hohns who either initiated discussions or tapped players on the shoulder. That frankness and foresight have been sought again by Queensland and Australia, via Hohns' appointment as Queensland chairman of selectors and state talent manager. The cricket landscape he has returned to is a long way removed from the one he left.

How do you view state cricket right now, relative to when you quit as chairman in 2006?
I don't think there's anything wrong with the state system. Our state competition is an area we need to try to keep strong, obviously via the Shield competition, but then there's the second XI. To me it all follows on: you need a strong second XI or Futures League competition. Hopefully that will keep your state sides strong. And if you've got a good, strong state competition, it means the national side should be strong, and that means states are producing players knocking on the door for national selection.

Everyone knows that Australia has been going through a rebuilding process the last few years. Well, we've got to stop using that as an excuse and just get on with it, and the states need to play their part. They need to be producing and encouraging blokes to be good enough, or to try to get themselves good enough via performance to knock on the door for national selection.

During your tenure young players really had to earn their way into state and international ranks, whereas now opportunities seem to be given far more easily.
A few years ago we had a fair amount of depth, which in the last few years has eroded a little bit. So I think everyone is trying to find a new crop and just trying to make that depth stronger all the time, whereas many years ago we were strong everywhere. We had a strong national side and the state competition was breeding players who were belting the door down for selection in the national side, and there just wasn't the opportunity, whereas now there is plenty of opportunity, so young blokes should be able to see that, and they have got to hone their skills and be good enough to represent their country.

A pathway has developed parallel to, but not necessarily in line with, club and state cricket, whereby talented juniors play under-age competitions, go to the Centre of Excellence, then play for Australia A, then for the national team. Is it better for them to earn their stripes in the Sheffield Shield?
You'd like to see them earn their stripes in state cricket and get experience, but I think it is just a legacy of the times we're going through, where players are being identified younger, and because there are opportunities they're getting pushed through to state and national level a lot quicker than they used to be, because of the problem with depth.

After the Ashes you were quoted as saying you didn't think the appetite was quite there anymore for state batsmen to sweat through a long innings.
I'm not sure it is necessarily the players' fault. It is just the way the game's being played these days. There is so much one-day cricket now and Twenty20 cricket, it is just the nature of the beast, I think, and the way that cricket is changing. So it's nothing to do with the players not wanting to do it. I'm sure they do, but with all the one-day cricket they play, even at the younger, junior level, they're really brought up on a lot of one-day cricket these days.

The really good players can adapt to either form of the game, I think, and that's what we've got to identify, those players who are good enough to do that. It's not easy - that's a selection process and a coaching process.

"To have 25 [players on the contracts list] seems a lot to me, and I think the players' association and CA need to be a bit flexible on this. Where we go with it I don't know"

Twenty20 is here to stay, the one-day format's here to stay, so we've just got to bear with it and try to encourage or produce players that can change the way they play the game. Sure, one shorter form of the game might suit some players but that's a selection and a coaching process.

The Cricket Australia contracts system has faced plenty of scrutiny. A slightly different system existed when you were chairman, but the idea of a list of 25 is the same.
We had plenty of depth then, but I'm not sure that 25 is the right number. I must admit I was always saying that [as chairman], but that was the deal, that was done, and we had to work with it. To have 25 seems a lot to me, and I think the players' association and CA need to be a bit flexible on this. Where we go with it I don't know. You and I aren't going to change that, it's more a matter for CA and the players' association, I believe. There are several lines of thought: whether it should be more incentive-based, or whether T20 cricket should have separate contracts, there's several lines of thought, and I'm sure they're going over all of those.

Does there need to be a greater weighting of CA contracts towards Test cricket to keep it the pinnacle of the game and counterbalance T20 money?
I think so. I've been out of the loop for a little while now but I presume most players still want to represent their country in Test matches. Sure, the shorter version of the game, T20 and to a lesser extent one-day cricket, generate a lot of money, so that's all got to be taken into account and there's got to be a balance somewhere.

Harking back to your final year or so as chairman - did you have discussions about avoiding the block of retirements that we subsequently saw in 2007? Australian cricket had successfully avoided that scenario since Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh quit together in 1984.
Of course, we'd started to speak about that, and it was a matter of identifying and having back-up players in place, but then I was out of it after that [April 2006] and I don't know what occurred, whether there was any discussion taking place between the selectors and the players at that stage to have a gradual easing out.

Up until Steve Waugh fought to stay in the team for another year beyond 2003, the selection panel had more or less dictated when a long-term player would retire. The balance shifted more towards the players' wishes after that, didn't it?
That's quite right, and sometimes that's obviously via a discussion between the selectors and the player to organise it. But if they don't see it that way, sometimes it is up to the selectors to tap them on the shoulder. You've got to do what you think is best for the Australian cricket team. It's not a personal thing, it's just you've got a job to do, and you've got to do it how you see it.

You are about to work again with Greg Chappell, a former Queensland team-mate and now a very influential figure in Australian cricket. How do you see the dynamic between the two of you?
I think it'll be fine. I haven't had a great deal of talk with Greg just yet. I caught up with him the other day, so I don't think there will be any issues whatsoever - it'll be good to work with him.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo